As China Declares "War" on Pollution, Ethan Zindler Outlines Beijing's Clean Energy Ambitions


“You can’t talk about clean energy without talking about China.”

So said Ethan Zindler (pictured), head of policy analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance as he kicked off a luncheon lecture on today’s global clean energy landscape as seen through the prism of China.

Meanwhile, on the same day on the other side of the world,  Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a raft of new measures to “declare war’’ on choking air pollution.

Zindler’s talk crunched the data on the shift to clean energy sources and services such as renewables, smart grids, and electric vehicles. With offices around the world, his company serves as the definitive source of insight, data and news on the transformation of the energy sector.

While he praised British Columbia’s carbon tax, he said most governments only come to such leadership when they are forced to. He notes that the air pollution situation in China is driving deep change.

“It is not addressing climate, it is about addressing air quality,” Zindler said. “This is a government concerned about its own viability and popularity, and for those reasons we are starting to see more policies crafted around environmental issues that seek to make a better quality of life.”

“When folks can’t leave the house on a sunny day, then you have a civil rights issue in your country, and that is driving some of the activity right now.”


While we have been famously hearing that China has been installing a new coal plant each week, last year that changed dramatically when the rock’s share of new generation dropped to 42 percent, Zindler said. In 2013, last year 56 percent of new electrons coming on the grid were generated by wind, solar, geothermal, and marine energy.

“The shift [away from coal] has begun,” he said.

China is now by a wide margin the leader in new investment in clean energy, he said. In 2013, China invested $61.3 Billion in new renewables, trailed by the United States at $48.4 Billion and Japan at $35.4 Billion (the latter increased 56 percent over the previous year).

Facing an oversupply of photovoltaic modules—the heart of solar panels—the Government of China began putting in policies to boost demand for them, including a feed-in-tariff. This has resulted in staggering numbers of investment in solar.

“At Bloomberg, we have never seen any country install more than eight gigawatts per year of solar PV,” said Zindler. “Last year, China installed nine gigawatts in a single quarter.”

At least partly in response to the air pollution and public health crisis, Zindler said that to some degree China’s clean-energy policy efforts have been “everything but the kitchen sink.” In the power sector, they include goals by 2020 to achieve:

  • 15 percent non-fossil fuel use in primary energy consumption.
  • 31 percent energy intensity reduction from 2010.
  • 40-45 percent carbon intensity reduction from 2005.

Beyond these targets, Zindler noted, there is a pilot carbon-trading scheme, the Chinese have held auctions for offshore wind, and launched unprecedented efforts to build out smart grids and smart meters, reform electricity markets, and add renewable portfolio standards.

Yesterday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said his government will “‘declare war’’ on smog by removing high-emission cars from the road and closing coal-fired furnaces. He also said the nation will reduce emissions of PM10 and PM2.5, the small particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health, and impose a ceiling on energy consumption.

Whether in China or around the world, clean energy is no longer “alternative energy,” Zindler said. “We are looking at $1.5 trillion invested to date globally,” he said.

On Thursday March 6, Ethan Zindler will speak at The Global Clean Energy Boom: How Canada Can Catch Up and Cash In — a free public after-work event in Ottawa that Clean Energy Canada is jointly hosting with Canada2020.

Media coverage of Tuesday’s event:

Greening China’s Power Brings Down Cost of Renewable Energy For All, The Vancouver Sun, March 4, 2014.

Clean-Energy Opportunities Abound in China, U.S. Expert Tells Vancouver Crowd, The Province, March 5, 2014.

Clean Energy Tech Reaching a ‘Tipping Point’ Versus Fossil Fuels, The Vancouver Observer, March 4, 2014.

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